The 5 Best Online Project Management & Collaboration Tools

When working on any software project, it is highly important to be able to plan, manage & track the project. Project management is a highly sought after skill & project management software is a billion dollar per year industry. So what’s a small business owner to do, when good project management software is expensive & hard to use. Luckily, online project management software has been flourishing lately. These tools are SaaS, or software as a service tools, meaning that there is no installation. They run online, and all you need is a web browser. However, as with anything else there are good, bad & indifferent choices. Some are expensive, some are underpowered and some are just too darn complicated to use. So, without further adieu, here are my top 5 choices for managing projects online.

1. Collabtive
After trying all of these choices, Collabtive is what I have settled on for my own use. Collabtive is a user friendly, nice looking, powerful online project management tool. Collabtive is intended for small to medium-sized businesses and freelancers, and it fills that role nicely. In addition to a completely hosted commercial version, they also offer custom installation and customization of Collabtive. It’s major features include Projects, Milestones, Tasks, Basecamp import, Timetracking & Reporting. Collabtive is also freely available as an Open Source download under the GPL. That means that if you do have access to a web server, then you can download it and install it on your own server for free. This is the option that I use, having created a new subdomain of as a project management portal for my clients. Collabtive is a powerful tool for online project management, and in this freelancer’s opinion is the best of breed when it comes to freely downloadable and installable options. Hosted versions are available for 10€ to 40€ per month.

2. Basecamp
No project management software list would be complete without Basecamp. Basecamp is the current “Big Dog” of online project management. Loaded with powerful features, and an excellent user interface, Basecamp is a delight to work with. In addition to common project management features, Basecamp includes instant messaging tools, file storage, CRM modules, iphone integration & integration with third party tools. However, it is solely available as a hosted solution, meaning that you must sign up for an account with Basecamp and cannot download the software. They do offer a free version, however it is limited to one user & one project at a time. I did attempt to use it for a while, but I’m too busy for the single project version to be useful, and too cheap to spring for the paid version. Pricing runs between $24 & $149.

3. GoPlan
Another completely hosted solution, GoPlan is a relative newcomer to the field of online project management. It’s relatively powerful, offers Basecamp data import plus most other common project management tools. Some of it’s main features include file versioning, which is a neat addition to the project manager’s toolbox, and the use of gmail style tags. GoPlan has an excellent user interface, and is another highly powerful piece of software. The best part, however, is their free plan which allows up to 3 separate projects, 2 users & up to 5 clients. With that amount of access the free plan is just about right for a freelancer or small business to actually get some use from it. Their paid plans run anywhere from $10 to $80 per month and include larger amounts of storage, more users & more features.

4. ClockingIT
ClockingIT is a completely free application. You can sign up for a free hosted account, or download the code and install it on your own servers. Like Collabtive, this is a feature that I really like. The only reason that I didn’t choose ClockingIT is that it is written in Ruby on Rails, and I have little experience with Rails apps. clocking IT has one of the best user interfaces out there. With charts and graphs liberally sprinkled throughout, it makes keeping track of your projects a breeze.

5. OnStage
OnStage is another completely free online project management app. However, the free version of OnStage has no restrictions, although it does place some rather obtrusive ads throughout the interface. If you can get past the ads, then OnStage is a pretty powerful project management tool. One of the things that sets it apart from other tools like BaseCamp is the ability to create Gantt charts. Otherwise it is comparable to most other project management tools in features. The only real downside to OnStage is the ads, which are fairly confusing for a client to see when he or she first logs in.

After trying many online (and offline) project management tools these have been the five that I am most satisfied with. My decision to go with Collabtive for my own client portal was mainly based on the ability to download and install the software on my own servers. However, all 5 of these tools do at least offer a free plan that will allow you to try before you buy. I highly recommend trying at least one of these tools for anyone whose business deals with discrete projects. Engineers, web developers, consultants, marketing consultants, designers can all benefit from a tool that helps them to plan, manage & track their projects.